I finished reading Rachel Andrew’s The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks and I have to say, that this is a very well written book.
There is nothing more frustrating for me than to buy a technical computer book and find out that it was totally useless. I often run into the problem where most computer books are either too easy, (like explaining how to install something or edit a preference), or they are tomes of reference material which I get bored with very easily. It seems like everything is written for the absolute beginner or experienced professional, perhaps publishers do not like to market to articulate readers who can do multiple things well. However Rachel Andrew’s book happen to be a welcomed and exceptional computer book.
To begin with this is a CSS book, and in case you do not have much experience with CSS, this is a very intimidating subject. CSS does two things for html web design, it removes the layout leaving only the content for you to write, and it styles the content. CSS layout and CSS styling are where most web designers are aiming for these days, but if you are just learning CSS, you will soon find out that CSS styling is the easiest concept to grasp and CSS layout is quite the opposite. Given this, every CSS book tries to conquer both layout and style, and usually fails miserably when it comes to explaining layout. Part of the problem is that there are multiple browsers and each one supports CSS positioning in different ways, and you end up having to find a layout that works well in most browsers, while with font styles, even if a font does not display quite right, it still displays, so web designers has an easier time with CSS styling.
Although the title of this book states to have a 101 essential topics, while reading it cover to cover, you do not have the impression of counting each topic and that some topics are not all that essential. Rachel Andrew’s writing style makes each topic seem important and relevant to the overall discussion which is important, because it also allows you to read the book in multiple ways. Most computer book authors tend to reiterate the same things over and over again too, because they know most people will not be reading the entire chapter at once, as if they also know their book is boring; Rachel Andrew avoids a lot of repetition which is good, but obviously some points have to be restated for clarity. Personally I found the book a better read if you can finish the whole chapter at once, and this tends to work very well until you get to the later chapters which tend to be less consistent and have more random points.
As usual the first chapter covers CSS fundamentals, but it does it very well and even if you have experience with CSS, you should glance this chapter over, as Andrew’s explanations for browser layout and elements are very good, in fact it is the best explanation of CSS I have ever read! After this Andrew covers font styles and images, which most experienced designers will probably be familiar with. A good chapter to read is the chapter on navigation, as it explains how unordered lists are essential for making good navigation menus. For the chapter on tables, I found the subject interesting, and probably it will be something I will come back to, but I do not do much work with tabular data of late. I found the chapter on forms to be more immediately useful. About 40% of the book, is devoted to CSS layout positioning and while the beginning chapters are pretty clear, the last chapter is kind of a muddle of different browser specific problems which of half are essential and useful. I will still give Andrew credit though for remaining consistent until now and not boring me.
Sitepoint has the complete chapter list on their website, so if you would like to see the specific chapter titles you can.
EasyRiders has quite a few CSS books on the market, some of which are in color and written by CSS guru Eric Meyer, and in certain places, it would have been nice if the CSS Anthology was in printed in color instead. Some of the tips would have been easier to see if you could have seen a better graphic in the book. However given that some of those colored books are around $50 and Rachel Andrew’s book is considerably cheaper, this complaint might not be so valid to some readers.
I am sure some readers would have liked a reference chapter, or a nice cheat sheet graphic which they could use as they are learning layout, but to be honest, some of this is more easily found on the internet and if you really want a colored cheat sheet, you should be able to find one and print it yourself.
Rachel Andrew’s The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks is a good book aimed at beginners and experienced designers who want a concise and very readable CSS manual. I recommend it highly.